I could write an entire book breaking down this movie. There are so many aspects of it that are larger than life, yet somehow it all comes out as a subtle scream. See, it’s a loud and aggressive movie, but it’s tender and quiet in its own right. This ingenious juxtaposition reflects and defines the basic clash between the protagonists and the antagonists. Since there is so much to be said, I will be writing a series of articles dissecting the different parts of the build of this movie. This first article will take a look at the political dystopia that defines this world and reflects our own.
Let’s begin with the world that has been created, or should I say accelerated. The saying ‘write what you know’ is very popular in the screenwriting world, but this film takes it to a whole new level. The writers take the faults of real life political powers and hits the fast-forward button. They make it so Mad Max: Fury Road reveals what the world’s possible future will be if these faults were to win out. This point can be seen in three parts of the film.
The first one is pretty basic and can be found in a lot of other dystopian stories, but it’s important to note. Immortan Joe, the ruler of the settlement that Max is brought to, holds control over the only irrigation system that we know of in this world and therefore owns the entirety of the human race. Like many dictators in our current world, he uses these resources to control the population. When you hold people at a state of barely surviving, you’re going to get one of two reactions. Either the people are going to rise up against the cruelty of the leader, or they’re going to forget everything else and only care about the little pieces of existence that allow them to survive because they don’t have the luxury of focusing on other issues. For example, a big reason why the French Revolution was sparked was because the peasants were hungry and weren’t being taken care of. The bourgeoisie had all the wealth and took political power away from the peasants so the peasants fought back. The peasants in Mad Max do not react like those in France because there is a crucial piece of society that is different. It isn’t just food that’s being held from the peasants, it’s water. A defamation of water has a bigger impact on your strength and ability than a loss of food. Immortan Joe occasionally gives them water, but doesn’t tell them when they will be given it again. That way, he makes them rely on him to live. Also, they are surrounded by nothing but desert in a canyon with little access to other allies. Therefore, there are no weapons for them to obtain in order to be able to fight the massive artillery that Immortan Joe hordes. The revolution would have to be done by someone on the inside so that the peasants have access to the weapons and a healthy diet of water and food, but his disciples are so brainwashed that this seems almost impossible. Almost. That’s where Imperia Furiousa steps in. The fact that she is a woman is not played up in an obvious way throughout the movie, but it is a big reason why she was the one who broke Immortan Joe’s hold on her. I will get more into this and her character as a whole in Mad Max: Fury Road Post #2.
The second one is much more interesting. It plays on the duality of weaponry vs. cultivation. In our current society, there are so many funds allocated towards advancing weaponry that it seems like the world is always in an arms race, but this comes at a cost. When we focus on weapons, we lose sight of the necessities of life, like reversing global warming. We allocate all of our funds to something that isn’t used to sustain life, but is used to sustain power. This future demonstrates what that extreme thinking leads to. The weapons are outstanding and abundant with giant war machines and a plethora of war tactics, but the world has been ignored to a point that there is no place left to grow food. They let everything dry up and the ground turn to sand. We know that this is something that happened during the current generation’s lifetime because a group of older women talk about how they grew up with farms. They do make it clear that the world still currently has farms, but they’re not vegetable farms. They’re bullet farms. Also, there is a moment when a girl points to a moving star and asks what it is. The older woman tells her it’s a satellite and goes on to talk about how everyone used to have televisions in their homes. The fact that everyday technology has rapidly receded shows that all of the technological advances have been war based and not beneficial to the majority of the population. The writers here could be making a remark on what a world based on totalitarianism and not capitalism creates.
The third one is the most extreme, but the most obvious parallel to an aspect of our world’s mentality. If you’re ever wondering what makes Immortan Joe’s army so dedicated to him, take a look at why people are dedicated to Hamas and Augustus Caesar. Whenever Immortan Joe’s War Boys go to battle for him, they do so in hopes that they die in his honor. They actually aim to die because they believe this will bring them to ‘Valhalla’, which is a type of afterlife that stems from Norse mythology, which is a religion cultivated by North Germanic pagans. The term that the main War Boy, Nux, uses is, “I live. I die. I live again.” If they only wish to die in battle, then that’s something that has been a part of our culture since before history was recorded, but the writers take it a step farther and make a more impactful reflection on our world. They have Immortan Joe take advantage of the War Boys’ belief in the afterlife. He uses it to his advantage by putting himself into the role of choosing who gets to go to Valhalla. Therefore, it becomes about dying for Immortan Joe. He has brainwashed his disciples to believe that he is more than just a human. Does that sound familiar? It’s a tactic that reflects what Augustus Caesar did to make sure no one questioned his throne. Make yourself seem like you are on the level of a God somehow so that your people will have to worship you. The writers took this Roman ideal and combined it with the extreme mindsets of jihadists dying to enter heaven. The result is a combination that is extremely powerful and eye-opening to what extremes could morph together in the future.
The world in Mad Max: Fury Road holds its audience at a distance by only showing them a piece of it. This makes it so that you feel as if it’s still a strange and alien place. If you were to immediately relate to it, then you wouldn’t be able to judge as a third party, which is exactly what the writers want you to do. In order to critic our own world appropriately, we need to look at it as spectators, but that’s hard to do with all the influence we’ve been exposed to while growing up in it. Therefore, veiling real world faults in this crazy, comic book world makes it so we don’t realize how problematic our world really is and what it could all lead to. That is, until we decipher how it relates to our world.